Thursday, February 27, 2014

Big to Little St. Joe tour

On the first day of President’s day weekend, a couple of Missoula’s finest skiers joined me on an exploratory day up Bass creek. The mountains around Missoula are in the throes of a massive storm cycle, so the agenda was simple: go up Bass Creek and ski whatever looked good and safe. Much to our surprise, the morning dawned clear, so we headed straight to the summit of St. Joseph peak. Big St. Joe is a long push from the car, and we took time to forge an as-safe-as-possible route, dig a pit, discuss options for the day, and generally enjoy the fine morning. I had not been on the summit in about three years, so it was good to stand on top of this commanding mountain yet again. With all the fresh snow, we felt obligated to tiptoe around a bit, and we took a conservative route down the southeast ridge and into the southeast bowl.  The skiing was excellent, inspiring Nick to yodel for an impressive portion of the descent.
High on big St. Joe
Nick yodelling as he skis down St. Joeseph peak.
We stopped at the very bottom of the bowl, about 1,000 feet above the creek, and climbed up the shallow ridge just west of the Pinball Wizard gully. I really wanted to jump into the Pinball Wizard, but wisely decided to save it for a more stable day.  Instead, we skied boot top powder down one of the tree lanes adjacent to our skin track, then re-ascended the track to the Bass/Sweeney divide. With weather blowing in and daylight waning, we hoofed it across to Little St. Joe, sneaking south of all the gendarmes and wind blown junk along the ridge. We skied the standard ascent route back to the car, and were able to keep skis on the whole way. We ended in the rain, but it was OK, because we had just had a fantastic 10k day.
Jeffrey at the bottom of the second run.
Transitioning in the storm on Little St. Joe at the completion of the traverse.
This was a great day. With better weather than anticipated conservative approach, we were able to move around really well and ski a bunch of terrain safely during a period of Considerable to High avalanche danger. The traverse out to St. Joe was a worthwile addition to the day, but skiing out Little St. Joe was pretty disappointing.  The skiing is just not very good on the southeast ridge. We probably should have skied the North meadows and committed to the slow bushwack out to the road. I still think that the tour is better done in reverse, with major variations.

The rest of the weekend was also enjoyable.  Ben, Leah and I went up the North Fork of Lost Horse creek and found a snowed in road (we parked out at the Lodge, which is about 2 miles from the South Fork trailhead), wind, too much new snow, and some good powder skiing. Ben is hands down the best trailhead food person I know, and we were treated to warm split pea soup at the car.  It spoiled my dinner, but that was OK. Monday was spent skiing at Mill point for the first time from Blodgett. The approach and egress were quite easy with the low elevation coverage, and we had some good skiing down to Tag Alder lake and farther down toward Mill Creek. I wanted to ski a big south facing run back into Blodgett, but avalanche danger seemed too high, so we just took it easy, cranking out about 8,500 vertical feet of mellow skiing.
Skinning in the storm and trying to stay in high spirits.

Ben skiing powder in Lost Horse creek.
And a quick detour to beat the light-is-right drum. While not racking up vertical like some guys, I have been fortunate to ski over 40,000 vertical feet of powder (and 2,000 feet of terrible breakable mush - thanks Kyle) in the past two weeks. I have been using semi-light skis (too-short Dynafit Manaslus and Huascarans) with race bindings and TLT 5 boots. With heavier gear, it would not have been fun to take the second long run in Bass Creek, or explore all they way down into Mill creek, or feel great for early Marshall powder laps, or get out with enough time for one of my partners to get hopelessly lost and still return to the car before dark.

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